Dating back thousands of years and transcending millions of cultures, races and religions; meditation is the definition of old news. So why is it more popular now than ever before?
I think that deep down, we all know the answer to this one.
In the modern day world we are bombarded with texts, emails, push notifications, tweets, Facebook updates, snapchats and skypes from the moment our feet touch the ground in the morning to the moment we go to sleep at night. This incessant noise and unrelenting battle for our attention makes it harder to focus, harder to relax, and harder to find just a second of headspace than any time in the past. Ever.
If you want peace in today’s world, you have to actively seek it and create it. And THIS is why more and more people are turning to meditation – to improve their work life, their family life, or just their quality of life.
But you’ve heard this all before, right? You already know the benefits of meditation so I’m preaching to the choir. And yet here you are, still trying to work out how to get started. My suggestion: change your game plan.
Whilst I honestly believe that everyone could benefit from a meditative practice, that doesn’t mean that everyone should meditate. For some people, sitting down in silence for 20 minutes just doesn’t work. So the trick is to look for activities that provide all the benefits of meditation with none of the difficulty.
Anything that allows you to clear your mind completely and focus solely on the present moment is a form of meditation. And the real magic of meditation lies not in the act of sitting still, but in the solace we derive from calming the ‘monkey mind’ and rooting ourselves in the now.
Some call it mindfulness, some call it headspace, some call it a ‘flow state.’ I call it the key to unlocking a calmer, more productive, happier, healthier version of you. And speaking from my own experience, the more meditative practices I brought into my life, the easier it became to transition into ‘real’ meditation.
So, if you want to enjoy the benefits of meditation but can’t find a way to make it work for you, give one of these options a try!
5 alternatives to meditation
When you’re under a heavy barbell about to attempt your one rep max on a squat, I can guarantee you’re not thinking about your to do list or what you’re going to eat for dinner that night.
Runners will also advocate that when they’re out early in the morning clocking up miles, it’s just them and the pavement. The mind is crystal clear as the feet hit the ground left, right, left, right, left…
Anyone who has ever surfed will tell you about the zen like state they reach when they’re out on the ocean. Your mind is empty as you watch the swell like a hawk, at one with the rhythm of the waves, waiting for the perfect opportunity to pop up and glide home. Deadlines don’t register because on the ocean there are no deadlines, just wave after wave crashing to the shore.
In many ways, exercise is one of the purest forms of meditation. We’re not sitting and searching for headspace; headspace comes to us when we have a racket in our hand or a barbell on our back.
So whether it’s weightlifting, cycling, tennis, tai chi, Zumba or CrossFit – if it anchors you in the present moment, it’s meditation. To get the most meditative benefits from your training, be sure to leave your phone at home.
If you love cooking, you’ll understand just how meditative a practice it can be.
I personally find that when I’m in the kitchen my mind slows down, I stop thinking about emails and deadlines and girls and divert my focus solely to the food I’m preparing. I lose myself in the fragrance of herbs, the depth of earthy spices, the colours of freshly chopped vegetables and the sizzle of a pan. And before I know it, dinner is served and I feel calm and refreshed. And hungry.
Cooking ‘mindfully’ isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I still have to work on it and often catch myself replying to texts or listening to podcasts half way through preparing a meal. But the more I focus on clearing my mind and being completely present when I’m in the kitchen, the more enjoyable I find the process and the better my food tastes. Double win.
It’s also important to remember that you won’t have a meditative experience every time you cook. No one has time to prepare a Michelin star meal every day, and that’s ok.
So start by setting aside one or two evenings per week where you can create a meal from scratch for family or friends. Allow yourself plenty of time so there’s no rush, and eliminate distractions such as phones and internet. Relax, have fun, and don’t be afraid to experiment! You’ll get the benefits of meditation AND a delicious meal to enjoy afterwards.
Whether you’re painting a picture or playing guitar; if you can lose yourself in your art form, it’s meditation. If you don’t have an art form that you currently practice, I highly recommend a mindfulness colouring book as an enjoyable way to eliminate stress and anchor your mind.
Try to focus on the paper and lose yourself in your creations rather than thinking about the jobs you have to do after. Take 20 – 30 minutes of ‘you time’ and let the colours flow. You may want to do this with headphones in and some relaxing music to avoid external distractions.
4. Float Tank
I recently experienced a float tank for the first time and was blown away by the experience. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I got more from my one hour float session than I have from the past six months of meditation.
If you’re unfamiliar with float tanks, you’re essentially stepping into a giant bathtub with a lid on it. The only difference is that your bathwater is filled with kilos upon kilos of mineral salts, so that you float on the surface. Oh, and the water is heated to the same temperature as the air, and the air is heated to the same temperature as your skin. So when the lid closes and you’re blanketed in complete darkness, your body cannot tell the difference between air and water and skin. And you are, for all intents and purposes, floating.
Float tanks are also known as sensory deprivation tanks for this very reason. There is no noise, no light, no touch. You’re so far removed from your physical body that soon the physical ‘you’ doesn’t even register. When you meditate you are alone with your thoughts. In a float tank, you are your thoughts.
It sounds kooky, but until you’ve experienced it for yourself it’s almost impossible to explain the feeling of a float tank. All I can say is if you’re looking for an hour of deep introspection or to connect with your Higher Self, get yourself booked in ASAP. I can’t recommend it enough.
5. Walk in Nature
Think back to the last time you were hiking in the woods or taking a barefoot stroll along the beach at sunrise. Was your mind racing and thinking about deadlines and to do lists? Or was it still as you listened to the crash of the waves or the whistle of the wind through the trees, as you felt the sand between your toes or the leaves crunch beneath your feet?
It’s almost impossible not to be present when we’re out in nature. The endless palate of colour and fragrance, the sun on your skin and the crisp air filling your lungs provides one of the most powerful ways to calm your mind and lose yourself in something much bigger and more powerful than you will ever be.
There’s a reason we’re drawn to mountains, oceans, forests and meadows. There’s a reason city dwellers are called to the peace and tranquillity of nature (and always return). Humans thrive when we’re close to nature and no matter how technologically advanced we get, we’ll never be able to override this setting on our hardware.
There’s an energy in nature that fills a tank within us that science will never be able to identify. All I know is that when that tank is full, I’m at my happiest, most focused and most productive.
So take a hike in the woods. Go camping in a meadow. Swim in the sea. Pick fruit straight from the tree. Explore. Fill your lungs. Drink in your surroundings. And come back refreshed, recharged, and ready to level up. Congratulations! You’ve just experienced meditation in it’s finest form.
Meditation isn’t easy, so don’t beat yourself up if you struggle at first. Find something that helps you lose yourself in the moment and use it as your anchor. Allow yourself the time for at least one meditative task each day, then build from there, applying it to more aspects of your life. Because the more headspace you can create in a world that’s filled with noise, the more your life will improve. Dramatically.
If you need help with meditating, why not check out my podcast episode with Jamie Hughes who takes us through three breathing exercises which you can do as you listen along with the show.